By Laurie Yarnell
“Oh, now I remember why I retired this Passover recipe a few years ago,” I think as I submerge my hands in a yucky, pasty goop of eggs, sugar, butter and matzah farfel. Not only is my peach farfel recipe time-consuming, it’s messy and requires math (ouch!) to convert the ingredients listed on the recipe to the sizes of the various cans and packages in my kitchen cabinets. Plus, because I double the recipe to make enough for two seders, this dish requires a whopping 14 eggs! But no matter, my (usually fussy) family loves it and I’ve decided to add it back into the rotation after years of enduring their complaints about its having gone AWOL.
It’s the first day of spring here in the Northeast and yet we are getting smothered with a blanket of the white stuff. Having heard all the weather hype about the blizzard-to-be last night, I had run out to the market to make sure I had all the ingredients on hand to make my farfel during the snow day. And as I do so now, I’m remembering why I enjoy cooking, in between frantically Googling “how many ounces are in a pound of butter” and “how many pounds is my 15-ounce box of farfel actually equal to.” (You get the drift.) I’m in the groove, with one batch finished, when I reach for the second box of matzah farfel to discover it’s actually matzah meal. Hmm, is this a problem? Why yes, it certainly is, I discover, as I try to soak the meal as required in hot water and it promptly turns into wet cement. Oy. The snow is really coming down now so before I brave the elements, I place a culinary 911 call to my longtime neighbor Jennifer.
Jennifer keeps kosher and has four kids who went to Hebrew day school and is always making these elaborate meals for her huge extended family, so I’m thinking she might have an extra box of matzah farfel on hand. She’s my go-to person to hit up for all missing recipe ingredients. At my son’s long ago local kindergarten back-to-school night, the bulletin boards featuring the students’ favorite foods were covered with crayoned depictions of sausage and peppers, pizza, and sushi – and one proud lone drawing of matzah ball soup, courtesy of you-know-who. So when it comes to finding a serious Jewish cook within walking distance, I am especially lucky to have Jen.
“You don’t happen to have an extra pound box of matzah farfel lying around, do you?” I ask. “Oh, you’re making your peach farfel!” she answers. (I love the fact that she knows me so well that she knows what I am doing. Our friendship does go way back – she moved in when she was pregnant with her first son, Jordan. My two-year-old daughter and I went over to welcome her to the neighborhood and, as she still reminds me, my little pumpkin promptly stuffed her teeny plastic Mickey Mouse figurine into Jen’s new house’s heating duct, requiring a costly HVAC repair. Anyway, she didn’t hold it against us, as we attended Jordan’s wedding a few years ago; he and his wife are now expecting their own baby.)
The answer to the farfel query is sadly, no, and as I’m making preparations to dig my snow boots out of the Bermuda Triangle we call our front closet, Jen says, “Wait, do you have a box of matzah?” And right away I see where she’s going with this – even I know that matzah farfel is just pieces of matzah broken up, and I do indeed have a box of it. I’m getting ready to hang up and hammer it all to pieces when she adds, like the experienced cook she is, “Just put it in a plastic bag and then break it up,” something that indeed, had not occurred to me. The whole process takes 60 seconds, tops, and I’m good to go, breezing through my second batch of peach farfel.
I’m reminded how much food links us to our heritage as Jews as I look proudly upon my four finished dishes of peach farfel. Part of the reason I brought this recipe back this year was that I was feeling a little guilty about disinviting that seder standard, gefilte fish, from our holiday meal. Absolutely no one in our extended family eats it, so I eliminated the separate gefilte fish course – and all those extra plates to be washed – a few years ago, relegating it to a sole jar of mini “fishlets” served with matzah crackers as hors d’oeuvres. This year I looked long and hard at a jar of fishlets in my local kosher market before putting it reluctantly back on the shelf. I knew no one would eat any of it and I just couldn’t see buying it only to throw it out. (I did buy a small token container of chopped liver to offer as an appetizer, and plan to seriously monitor its consumption to see if it will make the cut for next year’s menu.)
But planning, cooking and buying my menu of other traditional foods – matzah ball soup, charoset, kugel and the like, makes me feel connected to my own mother and grandmother, and those who went before them. Though both my parents passed away when I was fairly young, I still have so many happy memories of our extended family enjoying the festive Passover meal at our long dining room table, before joining in for a rousing chorus of "God Bless America," "Hatikva" and, for extra good measure, our summer camp alma mater, "Geneva, Fair and True."
Today, I feel an extra sense of responsibility to make my seder meal not just another Thanksgiving-esque rerun but more old-style, both to keep the traditions going for the next generation and to share them with my daughter’s longtime Irish Catholic significant other, an enthusiastic celebrant of many Jewish holidays in our home.
So this year, gefilte fish is out and peach farfel is in. But next year, whether in Jerusalem or our house, the verdict’s still out on the chopped liver.
P.S.: In the interest of full transparency, please know that “my” peach farfel recipe (see below), as Jen, my family and all my friends refer to it, is actually not mine, but taken from a flyer of Passover recipes distributed by my synagogue’s Sisterhood back in the late ‘80s. My secret tweak is to put the mixture not in any old glass Pyrex dish, but in a fancy-looking white soufflé dish with fluted sides. For the top layer, I arrange peach slices in pretty concentric circles (think gourmet apple tarte) and sprinkle it with a heavy dusting of cinnamon and sugar that caramelizes. Yum.
1 pound matzah farfel
7 eggs, beaten
¾ pound melted unsalted butter (you can also sub in margarine)
1 cup sugar
3 cans (medium) sliced peaches
¾ teaspoon salt
Cinnamon and sugar
Soak farfel in hot water to soften, then drain. Add eggs and butter and mix together. Add sugar, peach juice and salt. Grease a three-quart dish and fill with half the mixture. Layer half of the sliced peaches. Add remaining mixture and then the rest of the peaches. Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for one hour. Enjoy!
New York-based journalist Laurie Yarnell was of the first “mommy bloggers” – she created the popular humorous blog “Embedded in the ‘Burbs” for NBC’s iVillage.com, back when few people even knew what a blog was. She has been interviewed on The Today Show, WNBC-TV's "News 4 U" Channel 12 News and the nationally syndicated ChickChat radio show, and contributed numerous articles to The New York Times, The Journal News newspapers, the Grown & Flown website, and many other parenting and regional publications and outlets.